Is a hack a good thing or a bad thing?
The word is used in contradictory ways. Generally, the headlines say that hackers are bad, but growth hackers are good. On the other hand, some people will tell you that growth hacking is nothing but a new name for old-fashioned marketing or a bunch of unethical shortcuts.
The simple truth is that small businesses win their markets all the time by making their own rules. What might have been good advice a few years ago doesn’t work anymore. New technologies and new business models have hit reset on the basic assumptions of global commerce.
In a world of conflicting advice and constant cross-industry disruptions, how do you know what works best for growing your business intelligently? In our experience, there are a just a few pieces of very bad advice for small business owners that are still floating around out there.
In growing your business, the following bits of advice are hacks only in the original sense of being “things done badly by amateurs.”
1. Social media is free marketing!
Nothing is free. If the platform is free, what’s for sale is you. Small business owners often get caught up in trying to game their way up and lose sight of what matters. The purpose of a presence on social is to build your reputation and introduce yourself to audiences that you couldn’t reach any other way. Never forget that your goal is to find customers (not followers, shares, etc.) and your most precious resource is time. Strive to be an active member of a community on one network and very slowly add the others, but don’t allow your ego to take priority over revenue generation.
2. All you need is one big client!
In the rush to grow the company, many small businesses are thrilled to land a big customer. Too often that leads immediately to overdependence on that income and a false sense of security. Big customers do this to maximize control over the supply chain, and they are not looking out for your best interests. That’s just business. If they pull out, or threaten to pull out, it throws your business into disarray. It’s much safer to steadily build large base of customers to insulate your business from sudden shocks. If one client is responsible for around half your income, make growing your client base top priority.
3. Culture comes first!
Be careful with this one. Although business culture defines your productivity, too many small business owners read too much into the importance of culture, so they end up hiring friends and people just like themselves. At that point, as the saying goes in the military, “If everyone is thinking alike, someone is not thinking.” Hire talent for the skills your business needs and not for the people you like to spend time with. Friends often make the worst hires because people end up putting more value on the friendship than the health of the business. Be critical and performance driven. Measure often and believe what the data reveals about the abilities of your staff. Bad management alone has sunk countless small businesses.
4. All growth is great!
Growth is energy for your business. Uncontrolled growth is setting off a wildfire. The Startup Genome Project, using data from thousands of small businesses, found that scaling too fast or too unevenly is the most common reason for startups to perform worse. They tend to get unbalanced and costs spiral out before the business manager can rein them back in. The three most dangerous areas to scale are: employees, spending on customer acquisition overbuilding what they sell. Grow smart by balancing growth in five areas: the team, the customer base, the business model, the product, then the financials.
5. Spend big if you want to look big!
Naturally, that’s what a salesman is going to tell you. In the old days, opening up a business meant having an office with abstract paintings on the wall and an expensive phone system installed with wires everywhere. Now digital transformation has come for retail (ecommerce) manufacturing (automation) and communication (mobility). You can open up a critical source of cash flow by moving CapEx to OpEx in real estate (coworking offices), IT (cloud-based software) and telecom (Spoke).
Spoke collapses the most critical features of old world business phone systems into a 21st century app. You don't need hardware, rewiring or big investments at a time when your business needs free cash flow to grow the business. Try Spoke for free and explore a professional phone system built specifically for the needs of small business.